It was the news no-one wanted to hear: Albiceleste captain Lionel Messi has confirmed that Qatar 2022 will “surely” be his last World Cup with the national side.
"It's my last World Cup, surely. I feel good physically, I was able to do a very good pre-season this year, which I couldn't do last year. It was essential to get to where I am, with a good state of mind and a lot of hope," the 35-year-old said in a new documentary that forms part of Star+’s "En Primera Persona" series.
Messi, who is due to appear in his fifth World Cup, made his international debut in 2005 and has since won 164 caps for Argentina and is the country's all-time record scorer with 90 goals.
In the documentary-length interview, which took place in Paris where Messi plays for Paris Saint-Germain, he admitted he was nervous about the impending tournament in Qatar.
"There's a bit of anxiety and nerves at the same time,” confessed the playmaker. “Anxiety of wanting it to be now and the nerves of saying 'Well, we're already there, what's going to happen, it's the last one, how are we going to do?' On the one hand we can't wait for it to come and on the other hand there's the anxiety of wanting it to go well.”
Messi's international debut as a substitute against Hungary in 2005 lasted just two minutes before he was sent off but he quickly established himself in the national team set-up and travelled to Germany for his first World Cup in 2006. He went on to play in the 2010 edition in South Africa, 2014 in Brazil – where Argentina reached the final – and 2018 in Russia.
The current incarnation of the national side, under the management of Lionel Scaloni, has now gone 35 games without defeat, meaning the Albiceleste are now one of the pre-tournament favourites for the Qatar tournament.
"We are in a good moment because of the way things have turned out, with a very strong group of players. But anything can happen in a World Cup. All the matches are very difficult, that's why a World Cup is so difficult and so special, because it's not always the favourites who end up winning or doing the way you expected them to," he continued.
Quizzed about the chances of winning the tournament, Messi pplayed down the side’s hopes.
"Argentina is always a candidate because of its history, because of what it means, even more so now that we are here, but we are not the favourites. I think there are other teams that are ahead of us at the moment, but we're very close,” said Messi.
The Argentina captain also used the interview to pay tribute to Scaloni. "He talks a lot with the players, he always tries to be there for whatever. He's a person who lives it very much, he works for and for football, he loves what he does and he suffers a lot during the matches," said Messi. "He deserves everything he went through because the process he had to take on was not easy. He was the one who put all this together."